Cool Stuff Last Week: Penis Transplant, Friends or Not?, and Glass from Wood

  1.    The first penis transplant has been successfully performed in the US.

On May 9, Thomas Manning became the first person in the United States, and the third person worldwide, to undergo a penis transplant. Manning, 64, required a full penectomy four years ago due to a highly aggressive cancer. The transplant is hoped to restore both urinary and sexual function within weeks to months.

The transplant was performed at Massachusetts General Hospital by Drs. Dicken Ko and Curtis Cetrulo, along with a team of over a dozen surgeons and nurses. During the 15-hour surgery, the surgeons meticulously connected the urethra and blood vessels. Mr. Manning, like most transplant recipients, will receive anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life.

In the future, doctors hope to use the procedure on the hundreds of men each year, particularly war veterans, who experience genitourinary injury or loss. The procedure could have a major positive psychological impact, particularly for young men returning from war.

  1.       Your friends don’t really like you.

Suppose a scientist jumped out from behind a bush and asked you to come up with a list of your friends. Assuming you don’t reflexively punch our unconventional scientist friend, this should be a pretty straightforward task, right? Maybe not. A study out of MIT found that, on average, about half of people’s friendships were not reciprocated. A class of 84 students was asked to rate each other on a friendship scale of 0-5, with 0 being “I do not know this person,” 3 being “Friends,” and 5 being “one of my closest friends.” A reciprocal friendship was one where two people rated each other as a 3 or higher; nearly all of those who gave another person a 3 or higher expected that person to also rate them as 3 or higher.

Personally, my college classes were filled with temporary friendships that lasted only as long as the course. Every college class (and workplace, probably) is filled with nebulous, “I guess that person counts as a friend” relationships. Even after reading the study, I am still relatively unconcerned that all my friends secretly hate me.

The important part of this study is the insight it provides into social hierarchies and peer influence. For instance, the study also examined the influence of reciprocal friendships on behavioral changes and found that each person in a reciprocal friendship has more influence on the other than they would in a single-directional friendship. This could be useful for programs that rely on peer-based intervention, such as smoking cessation or fitness programs.

  1.    A new technology allows you to see through trees.

Sort of. Scientists at the University of Maryland have created a new process for removing pigment from wood in a process that results in a clear compound that is stronger than glass. The clear lumber could be used one day for windows, electronics, and microscopy equipment.

The first step in the process is to remove lignin, a polymer that helps plants keep their structure and provides wood with its color. Then, epoxy is poured over the now-transparent wood to make it considerably stronger. So far, the process has only been used to treat a 5×5 inch block of wood, but the researchers are confident that the procedure is scalable. Who knows – in a few years, you may be able to build a glass house and throw stones in it, if that’s your thing.

Jessica (Editor)
10891702_10152475816767115_155735200795992761_nJess is a fourth year biology PhD student who studies the liver and its regenerative capabilities. In her admittedly limited free time, she enjoys traveling, writing, and being outdoors.
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